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SHOW-BIZ ALEX

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Show-Biz Alex was the pure, beating heart of entertainment: the man with the microphone, the mouth and the phony smile. Perfect teeth, perfect skin, perfectly scruffed, buffed and tanned, Alex was as shallow as a pink satin slipper – shmoozing and cruising his clients with a subtle brand of passive-aggression that hovered just the starboard side of contempt. With all the faux charm and relentless energy of a late-night tele-marketer, Show-biz Alex was made for his job.

‘I’ve had sixteen years in show-business,’ he oozed.

‘Playing Prince Charming at Disneyland…’ one of his minions hissed.

*

‘How many children has Madonna adopted?’

In a five day contest of intellectual strength the men on board were pitted against the women.

‘When was lipstick invented?’

It was the Azamara ‘Battle of the Sexes’.

‘Who said ‘What’s Up, Doc?

Questions flew through space like projectile vomit, a never-ending spray of Az-inanity. Everybody was having a wonderful time. Of course, Alex ran the show.

‘Name Captain Ahab’s Ship in ‘Moby Dick’.

Hands shot up, just like kindergarten.

‘What’s the capital of Peru?’

Meeee, meeee, pick me Miss, pick me-e-e-e-e.

‘He always favors the men,’ said one old lady.

‘Not hard to see why,’ sniffed her friend.

*

‘O.K., Here’s a hard one for you.’

Show-Biz Alex turned serious. What an actress, what a star.

‘Name ten things Guest Relations do.’

Now this was tricky. The stakes were high. What does Guest Relations do? Whatever it is, they do a lot of it.

‘You have two minutes.’

Groups conferred; men huddled on the left, women whispered on the right. One largish young man leapt from his seat and headed down the stairs.

‘No cheating,’ Alex hissed.

Sonny was going to, anyway. He was a financial analyst in New York City. He knew that cheats prosper.

‘Just going to the bathroom!’ he chuckled. Alex ran past me and looked down to see Sonny leaning over the guest relations counter, grabbing every task he could find.

‘Not so fast tooba,‘ he shouted at Sonny’s corpulent behind.

Tooba‘ was American for ‘tuba’ – as in Tubby the Tuba.

It’s just as well Tooba didn’t hear.

*

Alex had the punters in the palm of his hand. If he wanted, there was a career in the Ministry ahead of him. He preferred those free-speaking Born Again shows but as long as they starred both him and Jesus, any old church was O.K.

‘Next question,’ he said, holding the pause…

He was planning a quiz where all the questions – and therefore all the answers – were about him. King of the Kingdom of Alex, he saw all of us as his willing subjects, an adoring throng of perms and perfume lost in his thrall. Our monarch was so magnificently fascinated with himself it simply didn’t occur to him that other people weren’t – of course, they were obsessing about themselves.

‘…name all the Entertainment Crew.’

Gasp. Now things were really ramping up. Five days of bitter competition, the girls against the boys, just like in the playground – everything has come to this. Today was the day – the grand finale. Prizes would be won.

‘And that includes production staff and stage managers!’ Alexander trilled.

Most of all, of course, he thought, it includes me, me, me-e-e-e!

A number of the more elderly ladies were over him. They were planning an intervention – the sweet old dears were going to stand in a line and sing that Carly Simon song: ‘You’re So Vain’ as he walked by. They even had a rehearsal but I think they chickened out.

*

*

Amy played both the harp and passengers with equal finesse. She was always up for a chat, mingling with the punters on deck, snuggling next to them at dinner, chatting away with anyone who came into her field of vision. She told me all about her contract.

Lounge Performers, males and females (entertain in certain locations on board – piano. bar, night club etc. providing their own music and materials) – solid experience and ability to play a wide diversity of musical styles. Fluent English Language skills required. Salary range: $2500-4800 U.S. per month.

This would explain the presence of that grizzled gentleman sitting wanly in the corner. The one who insists on dragging out his guitar and singing ‘Moon River’.

Amy had cornered the harp market.

‘You know,’ she said sweetly, ‘there aren’t many of us around.’

*

I guess there aren’t all that many gravelly voiced alcoholic Irishmen and their equally pickled wives out there either – well, not ones who can sing and play an instrument. I’ve forgotten the name of their act. They should have called themselves ‘Mediocre’. These lounge lizards howled sub-Sinatra at the windows, oozed Elton on the floors, interspersing their yowling with interminable banter.

‘Denise and me, we’ve been at sea for a very long time…’

She nodded lethargically and opened the lid of the piano.

‘We get off in Dubai and fly back home to lovely old Ireland, don’t we, darlin’…?

She made some impenetrable Oirish reply.

‘…back to the grandkids and the snow after nine beautiful months on Azama-a-ara. There’s just three last days to go…’’

Oh, no. He’s going to sing it, I just know…‘

‘And now, the end is neah-h-h…

Oi’ve traveled each and every hoi-i-i-way-y-y-y…

…and yet, much more than this, I did it…’

He took a deep breath, sucked in his gut and tried to look impressive. Failure.

‘Moi-i-i-i-i  WA-A-AY-Y-Y-Y!’

How do you describe the sound of one hand clapping?

‘Argh-h-h-h, well thank you very much, me darlin’s,’ he growled.

His wife switched off the mike with a clunk.

I could see why they drank. I would too.

*

Cruise-ship entertainers are low on the food chain. They hover somewhere between durian and rancid butter.   Life is short. Dog may die soon – particularly if he has to listen to another gay tenor – so, as self-preservation, all shows are off-limits.

But I can bear witness to one of the great show-biz meltdowns, the implosion of ‘Whyte’, two brothers who, in an infinite filial delusion, put on ‘The Great Beatles Tribute Show’. It was a train wreck from the get go.

Just who chooses cruise-ship entertainers? Probably the same man who stages those beauty pageants for toddlers. I can only assume that Whyte performed some urgent personal service in his office. There can be no other reason for their employ.

‘What would you do if I sang out of tune…

He was.

…would you stand up and walk out on me…

They were.

The Cruise Director watched, horrified, as the trickle for the exits became a flood. Even the drunks had given up on them. One poor Whyte had a sudden epiphany. His mouth opened and closed – but nothing came out.

Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song…

His larynx couldn’t lie any more. Even tonsils have a conscience. His voice had fled out of shame.

‘Oh, this is very embarrassing…’ he mumbled.

…and I’ll try not to sing out of key…’

Tonight’s tribute to the Beatles became a solo concert by the other Whyte brother, a skinny youth with more acne than talent.

‘Yesterd-a-a-ay,’ he crooned thinly, hunched gormless over the grand piano, ‘all my troubles seemed so far awa-a-a-y…’

I had the feeling there wouldn’t be a tomorrow.

Somewhere, just off stage, the Cruise Director was waiting with a big hook on a pole.

‘Get off!’ he hissed, ‘gee-e-et off!’

*

*

‘Name all the Entertainment Crew!’

The girls moved into a tight huddle. Curly white heads bobbed about furiously in the melee.

Pssss Wsss Wissss. The sound of women thinking. Psss Wizzz wsssss.

Sonny is stumped. No cheating possible. It’s the ‘Battle of the Sexes’. Men must win. The guys fold into a football huddle. Sonny takes control. He’s young and a natural leader. No option but to let him.

‘What’s that tenor’s name? The one who can shatter glass?’

There’s a tiny, determinedly mediocre core of six dancer/singer all-rounders, able to swing from deck party to production number. They were easy.

‘How many in the band?

There’s always an eight-piece show band – extensive professional experience required, excellent sight reading – able to accompany visiting acts like Whyte and keep a straight face.

‘Who was that over-excited balloon girl? What’s her name?

These are the Cruise Staff, the ones who organize – the fun and games ladies; the vibe captains, the energy. They must have names.

‘That fat man? Who is he? The one with the Scottish accent?’

I bet he’s called Scotty.

There’s a secret disc jockey as well. He’s a small gay gentleman who only comes out late at night, flailing in the Disco after midnight, playing favorites to the staff. Not too many of these old dames would even know he existed – few of them knew there was a Disco.

They’ll all forget wise Amy, sitting content in the arms of Azamara, gently playing her harp.

*

Show-biz Alex counted the votes, checked by that fat man with a Scottish accent.

‘The men ha-a-a-ave twenty names… but…’

He was speaking semaphore, rather as if he were trying to teach Hindi to goats.

‘…seven of them are wrong!’

Great hilarity from the girls. All eyes are glued on Alexander. He pretended to confer with the fat Scotsman then turned back in triumph.

‘The women have…’

Then, with a twinkle in his show-biz eye, a subtle flounce and a flourish…

‘…nineteen names…’

A groan from the women. A cheer from the men.

‘But…’

Alex was seizing the moment. This was his time to shine.

‘They have six wrong! We are equal!’

Pandemonium in the ranks. This was theatre. It was Dad’s Army meets The Golden Girls; true drama – the real Stuff of Life. Everybody was having a wonderful time.  He stopped proceedings with a wave of his hand.

‘Are the boys up for the challenge?’ he shouted at the men.

Oof oof oof Yargh-h-h,’ his troops replied and made a monkey noise.  Sonny led the chant. He looked a bit like John Belushi.

‘Are the girls ready to win?’ yelled Alex to the ladies.

A trillion sparrows in reply.

‘I have one last question…’

Now we were at the pointy end. The fate of both teams was in the balance. Alex stepped back, alight with the fire.  Watch and learn, De Niro. The two tribes readied themselves. What would it be? The square root of twenty-four? How many planets in the Milky Way? Name every canal in Croatia?

Show-Biz Alex relished his magic moment, the culmination of me, me, me-e-e-e.

‘What year was I born?’

The odd silence that followed didn’t seem to concern him at all.

I heard a wavering voice.

‘You’re so vain…

I bet you think this song is about you…’

*

© NIGEL TRIFFITT  2011

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